The novel also offers a commentary on the absurdity of war, and of the bureaucracies wars create. For example: Major Major appears to have been promoted to his position simply because of his name, not his aptitude, and he remains in this position while doing nothing. The chaplain’s assistant, Whitcomb, is an atheist who will carry out none of his superior’s directives out of a desire to ascend to the role of chaplain himself. Scheisskopf, whose only military skill is a love of organizing parades, is promoted to general, and eventually outranks even Dreedle and Peckem. The CID men dispatched to investigate mail-tampering and forgery eventually settle on the chaplain as the culprit—even when the chaplain’s handwriting doesn’t match the letters’, he is still suspected. Major Sanderson, the staff psychiatrist, uses his sessions with Yossarian to expound on his own neuroses and paranoia. And Milo uses military men and material to serve his own economic interests, even going so far as to aid the Germans to broaden his market.
These are examples of the comic dimension of military bureaucracy: Heller does an exquisite job of sending up the Army’s absurdity. But there is also a tragic dimension. Cathcart’s insistence on continued missions leads to dangerous flights over unnecessary targets, and encourages the slaughter of innocent civilians. These missions result in the death of many characters, including Nately, Clevinger, and Havermeyer. The military makes Dunbar “disappear” for his insubordination. And many officers insist on continued air strikes even after the outcome of the war tilts decidedly in the Allies’ favor. These officers, including Peckem, Dreedle, Korn, and Cathcart, are more concerned about their own promotions and recognition than about the lives of their men or of civilians on the ground. Thus the initially comic nature of military bureaucracy obscures the selfishness, narrow-mindedness, and cruelty of many officials that seems to be the product of that bureaucracy.
War and Bureaucracy ThemeTracker
War and Bureaucracy Quotes in Catch-22
Insanity is contagious. This is the only sane ward in the whole hospital. Everybody is crazy but us. This is probably the only sane ward in the whole world, for that matter.
Sure there’s a catch . . . Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.
“What makes you so sure Major Major is a Communist?”
“You never heard him denying it until we began accusing him, did you? And you don’t see him signing any of our loyalty oaths.”
“You aren’t letting him sign any.”
“Of course not . . . that would defeat the whole purpose of our crusade.”
The Germans are being driven out [of Italy], and we are still here. In a few years you will be gone, too, and we will still be here. You see, Italy is a very poor and weak country, and that’s what makes us so strong.
But the Germans are also members in good standing of the syndicate, and it’s my job to protect their rights as shareholders. . . . Don’t you understand that I have to respect the sanctity of my contract with Germany?
Even people who were not there remembered vividly exactly what happened next. There was the briefest, softest tsst! filtering audibly through the shattering, overwhelming howl of the planes engines, and then there were just Kid Sampson’s two pale, skinny legs, still joined by strings somehow at the bloody truncated hips, standing stock-still on the raft . . . .
The War Department replied touchingly that there had been no error and that she [Mrs. Daneeka] was undoubtedly the victim of some sadistic and psychotic forger in her husband’s squadron. The letter to husband was returned unopened, stamped KILLED IN ACTION.
And the very next morning they [Yossarian’s four new roommates] got rid of the dead man in his tent! Just like that, they whisked him away! They carried his cot and all his belongings right out into the bushes and simply dumped them there . . . .
“They’re going to disappear him.”
“They’re what? What does that mean?”
“I don’t know. I heard them talking behind a door.”
. . .
“It doesn’t make sense. it isn’t even good grammar. What the hell does it mean when they disappear someone?”
You’re damned right we’re going to punish you. But we’re certainly not going to let you hang around while we decide how and when to do it. So get going. Hit the road.
Do you know what he wants? He wants us to march. He wants everyone to march!
Catch-22 . . . . Catch-22. Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.